女大学生的沙龙

女大学生的沙龙: School of Mum and Dad: Lockdown has upended my screentime rules. It's now the kids without screens I'm worried about

Our children are spending an extra two hours a day on screens during lockdown, but we should be grateful they can access the online world

Hattie Garlick with kids
Hattie Garlick: Lockdown is one long game of pass the screen Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

A text arrives from a friend: “Hey, remember that decade when you didn’t let your children watch TV?” Oh, how we laughed.

It took two weeks for lockdown to knock down my sole parenting standard. And I do mean sole. While other parents managed to fill school bags with sugar-free snacks and un-smudged homework, our son once went so long without even opening his that a mouse had time to mummify within.

Yet between his birth, nine years ago, and the start of lockdown in March, no screens glowed in our home from Monday to Thursday.

Now? Family life is one endless, tense parlour game of pass-the-screen. School studies, family catch-ups, 80 per cent of their entertainment, even, thanks to Joe Wicks, their physical exercise.

According to the BookTrust, children are spending an extra two hours a day in front of screens during lockdown. Cue hand-wringing across the home counties. Yet, at the risk of rendering nine years of my own bribes, treats and glue-gun-related injuries utterly redundant.

There’s zero credible evidence that educational games and TV harm children. In fact, “co-engaging” with screens – that’s FaceTiming family or interacting with other kids via classes – seems to boost development.

So. Online chess with Grandpa is perfectly permissible. But what of the implied opposite? Will two extra hours slumped in front of Mario Kart scupper your child’s chances of a fulfilled and financially-secure future?

Penny Wincer is the author of Tender, a book about caring for her disabled son alongside her daughter, publishing next month.

“My daughter has really got into gaming during lockdown,” she says. “She really likes Minecraft. I’m trying to be less judgmental, but it’s not easy. I’m having to shake off a lot of needless middle-class concerns that rank interests in moral order, with video games at the bottom.”

And we all should. Flapping about uncouth childhood couch potato-ism obscures the real issues. It’s the paranoid parenting equivalent of the worried well, filling up GP surgeries at the expense of the critically ill.

Our anxiety and attention should be focused on those kids without screen-time right now. The Sutton Trust has warned that without improved access to technology for disadvantaged families, social mobility will worsen during lockdown. They mean access to maths, not Minecraft.

A fortnight later, their polling found that the privately educated were twice as likely to take daily online lessons, often simply because they possess the technology.

Yet implicit in their report was a recognition that those children armed with the latest Apple products were not going to have their progress through the ranks of privilege stalled by the inevitable encroachment of ghastly American jingles into their sitting rooms.

The uncomfortable truth is that loosening the rules on TV and gaming will have precisely zero impact on my children’s advantages. We have just enough screens to juggle between us. In place of private school, we’re drowning in online children’s workshops from the Natural History Museum, the Met and more.

This newly sprung form of education is free, but the freedom to seek it out is far from universal. In other families, every ounce of energy is devoured by the challenge of stretching the contents of a rapidly-emptying fridge.

There has been a 122 per cent rise in food bank parcels for children, says The Trussell Trust. TV’s impact on development is nothing to that of an empty stomach. Stressing about screen time is just fiddling with parental controls, while Rome burns.

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